Saturday, September 08, 2007

Better Late Than Never

You've probably heard the expression "Better late than never" a million times. I just checked Google and I got about 1,710,000 hits for that phrase. In contrast, I only got about 19,600 hits for "Better never than late," so clearly "Better late than never" is the more popular phrase, and presumably the more popular sentiment as well.

In general, I suppose it's better to be late with something than to never do it at all. For example, a while ago, I bought something at Amazon. I wasn't happy with it so I wanted to return it. Normally Amazon is pretty good about returns, but they have a policy that says if the packaging has been destroyed, you can't return it for a full refund.

I'm normally very careful about preserving the packaging, but in this case, the product came in what's commonly known as a "blister pack," which means that it was essentially sandwiched in between two pieces of clear plastic that have been fused together. As I'm sure you're aware, there's no way to get your hands on the product without destroying this sort of packaging to some extent.

So I called Amazon, explained the situation to them, and asked them how much they would refund. After looking at my files, the man I spoke with told me that because I'm such a valuable customer, they would refund the entire amount, and that he would mail me a return label that was coded in such a way that when they received the package, they'd know to refund the full amount.

The only problem was, the label never arrived. I was told that it might take a week to arrive, and I was waiting patiently, but after ten days I decided to call Amazon again. This time, the person I talked to looked into my file and saw no indication that a label had ever been mailed. He apologized and told me he'd create a return label immediately and he'd email me a link to it as soon as he was done.

Half an hour later, when I hadn't received his email, I called Amazon again. The guy I spoke to this time said he'd send me the link at once. And he was true to his word, because I received the email at once. I clicked on the link, opened up the PDF file it pointed to, printed it out, slapped it on the package, and dropped it off to be shipped.

A couple of weeks later, I got an email from Amazon informing me that they received the package I'd sent them, and that I should expect to receive my refund as soon as they were through processing my request.

A month later, when I still hadn't received the refund, I decided to give Amazon a call. The woman I spoke to looked up my case and told me that someone had decided that the refund amount I was entitled to was zero, as in zero dollars and zero cents. That, she explained, is why I hadn't received my refund yet. Fortunately, by looking a little deeper into the case, she also saw that I'd been promised a full refund, so she issued a full refund on the spot.

That whole experience was sort of frustrating, but I was happy with the resolution, so it falls into the "Better late than never" category.

But not everything does. For example, have you ever been driving behind somebody who refuses to use his turn signal until he begins making the turn? I see this so often, but it will never make sense to me. If you're in the left-turn lane, I assume you're going to a left turn, but since you didn't signal when you changed into the left-turn lane, and since your signal was off all during the time you were in the left-turn lane waiting for the light to turn green, why bother to turn it on at the moment you begin to make the left turn? It defies all logic and reason. So this falls into the "Better never than late" category.

I have another example, but it isn't very good, so I'll skip it and go on to the example after that. As you may know if you've ever looked at my web site, I've written and published a few books. I self-published them because when I had an agent, she wasn't able to interest any publishers in the manuscripts, and when she retired I wasn't able to find a new agent. That's all ancient history -- I think the last time I contacted an agent was around 2002 -- so imagine my surprise when I got a rejection later from an agent just a few weeks ago. To her credit, she did apologize for not responding sooner, but I really wondered why she bothered to respond at all. Five years had gone by, so it's not like I was anxiously waiting to hear from her. As a matter of fact, I didn't even remember that I'd ever even contacted her. It also occurred to me that maybe if she stopped trying to answer all her five-year-old letters, she might have some time to answer her more recent letters. So this is another "Better never than late" example.

By the way, if you're interested, I'm currently putting together a collection of short stories. It should be published sometime before the year is over. The stories were all written in the '80s and '90s, and even though I think my writing has matured a lot since then, some of these stories are pretty good. As a matter of fact, they're very good. Not every story in the collection is that great -- some of them are merely amusing -- but it's still going to be an interesting collection of short fiction, so I'd buy a copy if I were you. But I'm not you, of course, so you'll probably have to buy a copy for yourself.